English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 87: Al-Ala — The Most High (Revealed at Makkah: 19 verses)

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Introduction:

The title of this chapter is taken from the command to the Holy Prophet in the first verse to glorify his Lord, the word for “Lord” being Rabb meaning “nourisher to perfection”, Who is also described here as The Most High. This indicates that the Holy Prophet himself would be raised to the highest position. The mention of the scriptures of Abraham and Moses in the final verse is to show not only that the Holy Quran agrees with previous scriptures in essential principles but also that those books contain prophecies about the Prophet Muhammad. This chapter is one of the earliest revelations.

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Translation:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

87:1 Glorify the name of your Lord, the Most High!1
87:2 Who creates, then makes complete,
87:3 and Who measures, then guides,2
87:4 and Who brings forth vegetation,
87:5 then makes it dried up, dust-coloured.3
87:6 We shall make you recite so you shall not forget —
87:7 except what Allah please.4 Surely He knows the manifest and what is hidden.
87:8 And We shall make your way smooth to a state of ease.5
87:9 So remind, reminding indeed benefits.6
87:10 He who fears will be mindful,
87:11 and the most unfortunate one will avoid it,
87:12 who will burn in the great Fire.
87:13 Then he will neither die in it, nor live.7
87:14 He indeed is successful who purifies himself,
87:15 and remembers the name of his Lord, then prays.
87:16 But you prefer the life of this world,
87:17 while the Hereafter is better and more lasting.
87:18 Surely this is in the earlier scriptures,
87:19 the scriptures of Abraham and Moses.8

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Commentary:

  1. This states that not only would the Holy Prophet be raised to the highest place to which man can rise, but everyone, through the glorification of God, can rise to the highest place to which he is capable of rising. Hence the order to glorify The Most High is immediately followed by the words that He not only creates and makes complete but has also ordained a measure for everyone and He guides everyone to this goal.
  2. Verses 2 and 3 speak of four Divine acts: creation, completion, measuring, and guiding. Everything in this universe is subject to these four laws, and so is man. He is created from a very humble and low beginning, his first condition being that of a life-germ which cannot be seen. Then it develops gradually to complete human form. This is the subject-matter of v. 2. The third verse then lays down that everything in creation is held under control: it is made according to a measure and its progress lies along a certain line; and that it is God Who guides it or makes it walk along that line. The whole is in special reference to the spiritual advancement of man through Divine glorification.
  3. Vegetation, too, receives life but there is no higher purpose in its crea­tion beyond the fact that it serves to sustain man; so it dries up. But there is a higher purpose in the creation of man; and it is to fulfil that purpose that God sends His revelation, which is spoken of in the next verse.
  4. Man is apt to forget, and the Prophet was a human being and he too was apt to forget. But he never forgot a word of the Divine revelation which came to him. He sometimes received long chapters on a single occasion, but the whole was so deeply impressed on his mind that once it was read out to him by the Holy Spirit, he repeated it without forgetting a word of it. Still more difficult was his task when chapters were received piecemeal. The reference in what Allah please is not to Divine revelation which the Prophet never forgot, but to other things which he forgot as a human being.
  5. The words predict the Holy Prophet’s triumph and the removal of the distress in which Islam was.
  6. The Arabic word in here means indeed and not if. There are numerous instances of this in the Quran as well as in Arabic prose and poetry.
  7. There is no life in hell, for life is only for the righteous; neither is there death, because death signifies a state of complete rest.
  8. The preference of the good of the Hereafter to the transitory advan­tage of this life is the one great truth preached by all prophets. There is also a reference here to the prophecies concerning the Holy Prophet which are to be found in the revelation granted respectively to Abraham and to Moses; see 2:124 footnote and 2:41 footnote. Or, the essential principles of religion are meant, which are common to all the great religions.

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